FYI.

This story is over 5 years old.

Interviews

TV on the Radio On Their New Album, Beyoncé and How Brooklyn is Dead

They’ve never shot heroin in a church basement, in case you were wondering.

Ten years ago, I went to see TV on the Radio play the Cockpit in Leeds (RIP) to an audience of around 30 people. Afterwards, my friend Christie went up to David Sitek and apologised for the sparse attendance – they’d blown us away and she was sad that more people hadn’t been there to experience it.

TV on the Radio have always felt like a band of outsiders within an indie scene full of other bands of outsiders. Interpol had their dramatic gloom, Liars had their avant-garde assault and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs had Karen O. These were all bands that crossed into the mainstream – at least for a time – while maintaining their originality. TV on the Radio spanned genres and brought an intense dedication to pushing the limits of what an indie rock band could do. Return to Cookie Mountain is one of the definitive albums of its time. They are the embodiment of Brooklyn before all the eggs benedict arrived.

Annons

Their new album, Seeds, recorded at David Sitek’s house, is the first since 2011’s Nine Types of Light. It’s also the first since their bass and keyboards player Gerard Smith died of lung cancer. It’s been 10 years since Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes propelled them into the limelight.

The morning after their gig at Oslo, a smallish venue wedged into the alley that leads up to Hackney Central station, I met three quarters of the band – David Sitek, Jaleel Bunton and Kyp Malone – to talk gigs, Brooklyn and politics. Throughout our chat Kyp sat with a scalpel, cutting little bits out of a fashion magazine. I couldn’t work out whether to feel annoyed or impressed. It was probably a mixture of both.

Hi. I saw you guys about 10 years ago in Leeds, in front of about 25 people, and a friend of mine actually came up to you [David] afterwards and apologised for how few people were there.

David (laughs): We should have asked for an apology!

What she meant, of course, was that it was a shame there weren’t more people to see it, because it was a great gig. How has playing live changed for you over the years?

Jaleel: We’ve definitely gotten better.

David: Yeah, for sure. Was it Oxford the one where we were all like, “Oh, I think we need to break up today”?

Jaleel: It was so bad that my girlfriend at the time said she was embarrassed. She said, “I don’t know if I want to be your girlfriend anymore”.

Annons

What do you think makes a good gig? For a lot of people in the audience I don't think it has too much to do with being really tight.

Kyp: With that show there was no question in anyone’s mind that it was a terrible experience. Everyone was in agreement.

David: The audience and the band were in complete agreement.

Jaleel: There was definitely a notable lack of high contact after the show. Last night was a really good show for us, though. I guess sound is like moving energy in a room and sometimes those waves get inertia or just make sense. Last night just made sense. There was harmony between the band and audience and things were moving in a way that was inspiring.

Apart from Oxford, do you have memories of gigs that were particularly good or bad?

David: I’ve been trying to pin good shows in my mind more often than I pin bad ones. As time goes on, you just really start to appreciate things about the mistakes you make that are really beautiful and keep the music fresh to you.

There are moments when I don’t know what I’m doing and it’s really clear by the look on my face. And to look at someone else who knows that I don’t know what I’m doing and they’re like, “Yeah that’s cool”, I mean, I wouldn’t call it improvisation but there’s something about the fluidity that I’m appreciating more than I did before. Making a conscious effort to do better doesn’t have to be fuelled by fear of looking like an asshole.

Annons

How spontaneous do you guys feel when you play? Do you struggle when you don’t feel in control?

David: Our drummer sometimes starts a song twice as fast as I intend on playing it and it scares the shit out of me, especially when it’s a song where I’m playing guitar, and that has proven to be a really energetic asset that I didn’t intend on.

I’m not in control and it would be noticeable to slow the song back down to say, human level, but you’re just kind of racing against it and you’re chasing it down thinking, “Oh please god, oh please god, oh please god”, and then it’s over and you’re like, “It felt pretty good. I don’t wanna ever do it again that fast but it felt pretty good”.

Nick Zinner was at your gig at Oslo, which felt very appropriate considering you all came out of the Brooklyn scene. What are your memories of that time and how do you feel about what Brooklyn is like now?

Kyp: That whole thing has been over for a while. I’m starting to not want to talk about it anymore. I live in New York still and there’s such a constant conversation amongst people that I know there – and I participate in it – about how much everything has changed. But it’s a big place and it was never just artists and it will never just be yuppies and bankers either.

So for you guys, did it feel like a real scene? Were you all friends?

David: I met Jaleel because he lived with Nick and Angus from the Liars.

Annons

Jaleel: It’s funny because it’s kind of “yes” and “no”. I lived in a house with Nick and Karen O and Angus and Emily, from Metric. I lived in a little chamber and we weren’t really making music together. The proximity was intense and we had a rehearsal space just down the road where we rehearsed next door to Interpol. We all knew each other but we weren’t necessarily…

David: Shooting heroin in a church basement. Although, one band was.

Which band?

David: VietNam.

Jaleel: You were aware of the community, but for the most part it felt like everyone did it themselves. Interpol’s success was really different and separate from Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ success or TV on the Radio’s. Very few of those bands really informed each other beyond, “Oh I like that band”. I knew the guys from Interpol but the scenes were kind of different. It definitely does seem like that scene was formed in the aftermath of a bunch of mutual successes. Those bands are stylistically all quite different – it’s not like the [Seattle] grunge scene in that sense.

Kyp: There were Liars and Yeah Yeah Yeahs shows, though. Everyone was at the same parties.

David: I think you could say the idea of it being a scene was there because there were a lot of warehouse parties or parties at people’s apartments to pay for rent. There was a lot of cross-pollination, at least in 2000 and 2001, especially. There was always something going on and even if you weren’t really connected with the music, you were connected with the idea that it could just happen, that this party could just happen at this space. There was something true about everyone kind of meeting at the time at the one coffee shop. There was something going on.

Annons

I feel like there has been some politics running through your work in a subtle way. How do you try and incorporate politics?

David: Kyp said something a couple of years ago that I still think is pretty true, which is that all music is political.

Kyp: I don’t know if I always feel like that. I was getting tired of talking about it as if it was a thing that was unique or specific to what we were doing at the time. Even now, it’s been made more obvious with the amount of conversations about the legitimacy of Beyoncé’s feminist identity. If your country’s been in a war of aggression and you’re Britney Spears and you’re never referencing that at all, then that’s a political decision. But that implies that I expect her or someone of her calibre to do something differently. I can’t make that decision for anyone.

What are your thoughts on Beyoncé’s feminist identity?

Kyp: I think it’s confusing but I also don’t feel like I have any room to talk about any woman’s feminism. I also think I remember her performing at the Bush inauguration and the Obama inauguration so I think that ultimately, on top of being an incredible performer, she’s a very good businessperson.

Have you ever been a band that has wanted to incorporate the slogan into the song?

Kyp: I mean, if you write a song that’s a hit, and it says, “Bitch this, bitch that” and it’s shitting on women, that’s a political statement. It’s a fucking slogan. It’s only considered political if you’re going against the dominant narrative but there’s indoctrination and propaganda being spewed all the time. That’s political.

Annons

David: I think the idea of music being the vehicle for true political change is – I mean, if Guthrie couldn’t do it, Marley couldn’t do it, and Dylan couldn’t do it…

Kyp: I think it’s implying that it’s the responsibility of musicians to change the world. But changes did occur at those times and the Curtis Mayfields and the Bob Dylans were reflecting them and that inspired people to go out and make positive cultural, societal changes. You know, I could get behind some shit that people think is totally fucking wrong.

Like what?

Kyp: I don’t want to go on the record right now! I feel like an old person talking about Britney Spears because she’s so not current and I’ve dated myself completely by even referencing her.

Do you ever have a moment where you look at new bands and think, “These fucking kids”?

David: For the first five years I was like, “These fucking kids”. I don’t have any aspirations to be an elderly statesman. I’ve looked to the past and the future enough times to say that I’m a shitty psychic. I’m wilfully out of touch. I don’t ever really leave my house, except for things like this.

Ever think about making some country music?

Kyp: I’d make a country record in a heartbeat.

David: Outside this band, I pretty much start every song I write as a country song. It’s just easier to work out whether it’s a song or not. You can’t hide behind style and for a guy who has a house full of synthesisers and drum machines, I was allergic to acoustic guitars for a long time and then I was working on the Beady Eye record and they had all of Oasis’ acoustic guitars.

What does “Seeds on brown”, the last lyric in your album mean?

(Confusion)

Kyp: “Seeds on ground”.

Well, that’s embarrassing. Cheers guys!

Follow Oscar and Noisey on Twitter.